It wasn't hard to find a good seat during the opening rounds of the NCAA women's basketball tournament. The NCAA expects that to change for the Sweet 16.
Fewer people turned out for the opening two rounds of the NCAA women's tournament as the 16 sites averaged nearly 4,100 fans for the first two rounds, down about 700 from the previous year. It probably didn't help that three of the locations didn't have host schools playing at them — Los Angeles, Seattle and Toledo. While the Ohio site had good attendance mainly because Notre Dame was there, Los Angeles and Seattle ranked as the bottom two locations in attendance.
Less than 1,000 fans turned out for the second round matchup between BYU and Nebraska in L.A. Tennessee drew the most with more than 7,000 people at the first round games and nearly 6,000 for the second.
The NCAA doesn't expect to have the attendance problem next year when the top four seeds hosting the opening rounds of the tournament. While attendance was lagging in the early rounds, the NCAA is hopeful that will change in the regionals.
"While we didn't experience an increase in attendance at our first- and second-round championship sites, we are anticipating great crowds and games at our four regionals and the women's Final Four," said Anucha Browne, the NCAA vice president of women's basketball championships. "You can sense the momentum building in this year's championship, with many interesting story lines developing in what should make for a fantastic finish."
Stanford, Louisville, Notre Dame and Nebraska are all hosting, marking the first time in a decade that a school has been able to play at home in the regionals. While the Cornhuskers were knocked out in the second round, the other three teams advanced.
The Irish have already sold out Saturday's regional semifinals and very few tickets remain for Monday night's contest. Ticket sales at Nebraska have been strong even without the host team playing. Over 8,600 tickets have been bought for Saturday's games, which features top seed UConn.
"Enough people realize this is a big event for Lincoln and the state of Nebraska, but there won't be anywhere near the 10,000 that would show up if Nebraska were there," said Matt Coatney, longtime radio play-by-play voice of Nebraska women's basketball. "UConn is a big enough name for non-women's basketball fans, and Geno Auriemma is a big enough star, that people will want to come out and see him."
While Louisville may not get the 22,000 fans who turned out for their showdown against top-ranked UConn in early March, the Cardinals are expecting a huge crowd this weekend with Tennessee, Maryland and LSU in town. It's only a four-hour drive from Knoxville to Louisville.
Louisville has already sold over 8,000 tickets for Sunday's games and Cardinals coach Jeff Walz is hoping for at least 10,000.
"Playing at home is a huge advantage for attendance purposes," he said. "Our fans are excited to come out and buy tickets to see some great basketball."
Walz was impressed with Iowa, where the Cardinals played their first two rounds.
"It was great," he said. "Their fans were very knowledgeable about the game and brought great enthusiasm. Unfortunately there was a late start for the second round which may have affected the attendance some. Still 5,000 people were there and that's what you want, to play in front of crowds in the NCAA tournament."
Stanford, which has the smallest capacity of the four regional sites with just over 7,200 seats, has already sold over 5,500 tickets. It didn't help the Cardinal that the other three teams joining them are from the East Coast.
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb. contributed to this report.
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